BBC in £1.3bn IT transformation

Web-based IT initiative to revolutionise programme-making and make huge cost savings.

The BBC is planning to spend £1.3bn on new technology in the next seven years, as it looks to revolutionise the way it makes television and radio programmes.

The corporation is also aiming to significantly reduce its core IT costs to support the initiative, a move that has produced £38.4m in savings in the past 16 months.

Speaking to Computer Weekly at the IT Directors Forum on the Oriana last week, BBC chief technology officer John Varney said the initiative, dubbed One Vision, will bring web principles to the somewhat dated methods of programme-making used by most broadcasters.

"At the moment, the vast majority of programme content is stored in tape form, which makes accessing and searching it very difficult," he said. "By creating a commodity network, we will make programme-making more interactive."

The initiative, funded by commercial means and not the licence payer, may prove critical for the BBC as it strives to make the most of digital broadcast technologies.

The move towards what Varney called an "enterprise-wide programming environment" is very much a step into the unknown for the BBC, he said.

"We aim to create a network environment that has never been attempted before in broadcasting. The sheer scale of it is what makes it so daunting.

"To put it into context, if all our radio and TV content was stored as IT data we would be creating 13Tbytes of data every week."

Varney likened the initiative to News Corporation's mid-1980s move to high-tech printing operations in Wapping. Other publishers followed suit, revolutionising the print industry.

Saving money is key to the success of the initiative and Varney has set ambitious targets for cutting IT costs. "We spend far too much on [unnecessary] technology. Since I started 16 months ago, I have already cut £38.4m in IT costs, largely by deferring projects that we will not be able to start for sometime anyway, such as networks for yet-to-be-built buildings. I am aiming for a significant cost reduction in core IT spend by 2005."

However, he said the project would also improve quality for programme-makers.

The first stage of One Vision - syndicating BBC TV national news content to users' desktops - will go live by the end of the year. The major proof-of-concept pilot for the technology will be next year when it is used for the production of wildlife documentaries, Varney said.

The BBC hopes all programme production will use the new network by 2010, he added. It plans to use Foundry Networks for its infrastructure and either Hewlett-Packard, EMC or Sagitta for storage.

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